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Hawaii museum set to unveil artifacts lost in shipwreck 191 years ago

The old yacht belonged to the second king of Hawaii

 

A Hawaii museum is getting ready to open an exhibit of artifacts from the shipwreck of a royal yacht that sank off the coast of Kauai 191 years ago.

Hawaii shipwreck chaser Richard Rogers has worked with scientists from the Smithsonian Institution to dredge up the treasures from the ship owned by King Kamehameha II, the second king of Hawaii.

"We found gold, silver, Hawaiian poi pounders, gemstones, a boat whistle, knives, forks, mica, things from all over the world, high- and low-end European stuff. Every bit of it is royal treasure," Rogers said.

Rogers volunteered his time aboard his research vessel, the Piliaoha, in four-week intervals from 1995 to 2001 to pull up the artifacts.

"It's all pickled and nice and ready to be displayed," Rogers said. "There are over a thousand artifacts. We did our homework and this find is invaluable because it all belonged to the king. It is a fabulous window into the 1820s."

Rogers said the king’s belongings were buried in 10 feet of water and 10 feet of sand. He said his favorite discovery was a trumpet shell.

"I found it under a bunch of sand and carried it onto the deck. This was in 1999. I blew it and it made the most beautiful sound going out over Hanalei Bay," Rogers recalled. "I thought about how it hadn't been blown in over 170 years."

Kamehameha II purchased the yacht from George Crowninshield II, who named it “Cleopatra’s Bridge” in 1816. It cost $50,000 to build the 192 ton yacht, Kauai Museum volunteer Zenon Wong said. Rogers said it was the first luxury ocean-going yacht built in the U.S.

Wong said reports were conflicting about the condition of the crew of the 83-foot long ship, which had been renamed Ha'aheo o Hawai'i ("Pride of Hawaii"). Some documents indicate everyone on board was drunk April 6, 1824, when the ship went aground on a shallow reef. Other historical accounts report everyone was intoxicated except the captain. The cause of the wreck is unfounded but speculation shows it may have been the combination of an unexpected wind gale and a snapped anchor cable. There are no reports that anyone died aboard the ship, which was crewed entirely by Hawaiians.

The principal value of the artifacts is historical, Paul F. Johnson, Ph.D., Curator of Maritime History at the National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution. The treasures represent the only known objects from the reign of Kamehameha II, the man who abolished the Hawaiian kapu (taboo) socio-cultural system and allowed Christian missionaries into the kingdom.

"He only reigned from 1819 -1824, but Old Hawaii changed forever and irrevocably from the changes he put into place during that short period. He was an important member of our nation's only authentic royalty," Johnston said.

The State of Hawaii owns the artifacts and loaned them to the Smithsonian for conservation and study. The findings were in the custody of the Smithsonian from the time of their recovery, with the exception of some artifacts going to the Underwater Conservation Lab at Texas A&M University. Those objects were returned to the Smithsonian after cataloging, conservation and stabilization. Several years ago a sampling of the artifacts were displayed at the Smithsonian.

Four crates of recovered artifacts weighing nearly 1,200 pounds were delivered to The Kauai Museum in March. Two to three additional crates are scheduled for delivery and will complete the collection.

Kauai Museum Director Jane Gray said she expects to open the crates soon and unveil the contents to the public after everything has been carefully unpacked.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.